Longley Students Express Gratitude to Overseas Soldiers

Many of those who attended Longley Way Elementary School’s assembly on December 4 said they were moved by what they heard.

The assembly was part of a service project in honor of Veteran’s Day, where the school hosted a collection drive throughout the month to donate to deployed troops, said Principal Sherrie DuFresne.

All of the students at the school wrote personal letters of gratitude to military members who are currently deployed. The letters will be included in care packages that were put together with items from the collection drive.

The project ties in with the school’s Integrity and Character Education lessons, where each month teachers impart to students the importance of good manners, helping others and being caring of the classroom and others, DuFresne said. The theme for November was “Being Thankful and Caring.”

“I brought toothbrushes and dried fruits,” said fifth grader at the school Megan Lewis. “(The soldiers) can have clean teeth and food whenever they want.”

Students also turned in stars with the names of their family members or friends who are currently serving or previously served in the military, to be included on the school’s Wall of Honor.

The Friday event included the presentation of the collected items to presented to Paula Cornell, co-founder of For the Troops, an organization that collects and sends care packages to the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cornell co-founded the Simi Valley-based group four years ago after hearing that her husband, who was in the first Airborne during the Vietnam War, went a year without toilet paper.

“I was horrified when I heard that, so I wanted to do something to show my appreciation for the troops that are in harm’s way right now for our safety and freedom,” Cornell said.

“With the generous gifts and donations, we are able to send out many care packages to give them a little touch of home and let them know that America is behind them.”

The items donated included beef jerky, batteries, and the number one request of soldiers: letters from kids, she said. Other items included snacks and baby wipes, the second most requested item.

“It’s so important … for the kids to recognize that there are such brave and courageous young and women who are willing to (fight for the country), and to have an appreciation for our troops,” she said.

The program also included a speech by Seargant First Class Anthony Abeyta, who talked to the students about how being thankful and caring related to him personally and in his career as a solider.

Abeyta discussed his job of supporting the civilian infrastructure by building schools, clinics, and restoring electricity, and other ways to help the local Iraqi people to improve their country, he said.

“It was a good feeling, to know that the kids were writing letters and sending care packages to the soldiers because I know I was the recipient of letters and care packages when I was in Iraq from 2005 to 2006,” he said.

Abeyta said that the first time he received a care package, he was very surprised.

“My wife was working full-time, my son was one at the time and my daughter was three,” he said. “With the little ones running around, I knew I wasn’t going to get anything.”

Abeyta was happy to see the Arcadia Unified School District participating in a program like this, he said.

“It’s showing (students) quality values that we as parents instill in our children and the school reinforces them,” he said. “It’s important that we not just tell our kids what is right and what is wrong but we show them.”

According to DuFresne, Abeyta’s daughter, who was present at the event, was tearful hearing her father talk about the time he was gone from their family.

Students at the school said they appreciated hearing the Sergeant speak.

“[It was] inspiring because they have to stay away from family so long,” said fifth grader Jaclyn Huang. “It was very happy and sad at the same time.”

“When they’re fighting, they don’t have breaks or get anything to eat,” fellow student Elliana said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have freedom.”

Some grandfathers of the students who are veterans of the Vietnam War were also recognized, DuFresne said.

“It’s significant for children for children because it’s not often that they get to show their gratitude to people outside of their homes,” DuFresne said. “We were just so appreciative to the families for their generosity and it was very meaningful to have Sergeant Abeyta here to speak to us.”

Teacher at the school Laurie Morton said the event was the most inspiring assembly that the school has had to date.

“It’s so encouraging to see how so many young people are being affected by this part of our American history,” she said. “Our fifth graders study American history. They are able to see that history is not just information in a book. History was and is made up of real people and the choices that they’ve made. I don’t think they will ever view American history in the same way!”

“They can make a difference for good and change the course of history in their own lives and in the world around them,” Morton added.

If you would like to send items to “For The Troops,” you can mail items to :
P.O. Box 630103. Simi Valley, CA 93063

They can be reached at (805) 306-0830 or at

December 17, 2009

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